Australia Takes Its First Baby Steps On the Road To A Right-To-Repair Law, With A Consultation About Tractors

from the start-your-engines dept

Techdirt has been writing about right-to-repair laws -- or, rather, their absence -- for many years now. A recent right-to-repair post concerned ventilators, pretty much the last hope for critically-ill patients suffering the effects of the new coronavirus. This underlines the fact that being able to repair equipment you have bought is not an abstract issue, but is literally a matter of life or death in some cases. Despite that, in Australia the fight to obtain a right to repair is still in its early stages:

The 'right to repair' movement has finally bent the ear of Australia's competition and consumer watchdog, the ACCC, in its pleas to be able to fix their own farm equipment.

An ACCC inquiry will examine whether international tractor manufacturers are failing Australian farmers who want access to software tools and parts to repair their own machinery.

As that news item on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's site indicates, the impetus for a right-to-repair law comes from the agricultural sector. Five years ago, Techdirt wrote about a similar case in the US, which involved tractors from John Deere. The ACCC released a discussion paper on the topic at the end of February. It seeks feedback on what it terms four "concerns", specifically that:

1. access to independent agricultural machinery repairs is limited

2. farmers may lack recourse in the event of a problem with their machinery

3. agreements between manufacturers and dealers may limit access to repairs

4. data ownership and management may raise privacy and competition issues.

The last of these is particularly interesting. It reflects the increasing sophistication of the once-humble tractor, which now involves both software and data. The ABC story explains:

In an era of water scarcity and a swelling global population, machinery makers have poured millions of dollars into developing software that allows farmers to precisely plot their sprawling properties, gauging how much seed, water, fertiliser, and pesticide is needed for maximum crop yields for each field.

It is clearly vital for farmers to retain control over their own data, while equipment manufacturers see this as a resource they can control and exploit -- for example, by aggregating data from many farms and selling access to it. People owning agricultural equipment -- or anyone else -- have until Sunday, 31 May 2020 to make their submissions to the Commission. It will be a while before the ACCC reports on what it finds, and after that the battle to enshrine a right to repair in Australian law will probably take years. But at least the process has begun, which could give a useful impetus to other efforts around the world to bring in similar, much-needed legislation.

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Filed Under: accc, australia, right to repair, tractors


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  • identicon
    Bobvious, 22 Apr 2020 @ 4:15pm

    control over their own data

    This is an excellent opportunity for some bright minds to produce their own open-source equivalent data telemetry systems to gather the same data in a format that the farmers get to keep for themselves. The proliferation of Arduinos, Raspberry PIs etc makes the barriers to entry very much lower these days. Sparkfun is an example of a company where people could start looking. A bit of crowdsourcing might be an option.

    Farmers can get all their own data this way without relying on proprietary lock-in.

    Right-to-repair should be the law, but there is also an opportunity to walk right around the gatekeepers. If a farmer can put an extra set of lights on their equipment, they can fit some other equipment as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 4:30pm

      Re: control over their own data

      But how do they instrument their machinery when the manufacturers control repair and could use such instrumentation as a reason to delay or refuse repair?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 7:28pm

        Re: Re: control over their own data

        Are invasive modifications needed? Plotting software could run on a smartphone. It might be possible to attach sensors non-destructively, e.g. via magnets, if necessary.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Bobvious, 22 Apr 2020 @ 10:36pm

          Re: Re: Re: control over their own data

          Are invasive modifications needed? Absolutely not, for a lot of options. Tractors and other farm machinery are frequently designed to have a range of different attachments fitted to power output connections (PTO - power take off) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_take-off. Equipment can also be fitted using clamps and/or magnets.

          As AC2 says, so much of this can be done on apps on smartphones, which come with all sorts of inbuilt sensors like GPS, magnetometers, accelerometers, microphones and so on.

          Got a slightly boggy patch of field? Well you'll probably notice a change in speed/accel or fuel consumption or engine characteristics. You can record that event with the GPS and other data for further investigation. And maybe don't use so much water next time. Plug that into your irrigation system.

          It just requires a bit of thought about how to use pre-existing technology and making necessary adaptations.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 4:30am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: control over their own data

            You are assuming that the farmer is the one driving the tractor, rather than one of several employee or contractors working for them. There is also the problem of adding to the workload of operating farming equipment.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 7:29am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: control over their own data

              It doesn't really matter who drives the tractor. Telemetry can be downloaded when the tractor returns, or it can be transmitted in-field.

              I'm not sure that telemetry would add to the workload of the equipment. A tractor with several hundred (or thousand) horsepower is not going to be bothered by carrying 10 pounds of measuring gear. If you meant the operator's workload, then all of this equipment can be setup to operate automatically as a turn-key install.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Bobvious, 23 Apr 2020 @ 7:30am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: control over their own data

                Damn. wasn't "logged in"

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 12:41pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: control over their own data

                Telemetry can be downloaded when the tractor returns, or it can be transmitted in-field.

                Isn't data like "fuel consumption or engine characteristics" exactly what the manufacturers are trying to make difficult to access? Engine characteristics might be measurable by microphone, but what about fuel?

                Maybe something really corny like a camera aimed at some analog dashboard indicators (RPM etc.) could work. It's probably better to mandate something like OBD2, which is already mandated for cars (in the USA).

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 5:08pm

    This is great an all but... Australia will never be able to do enough "right" things to counterbalance all of the wrong they've done and will continue to do. They're trying too hard to be China 2.0. It must be something about their time zones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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